28 May 2014

Red Flower - Red Filter

As the title of this post says, this flower in the photograph above is a red one. Since I wanted a black and white photograph, which favours contrast and clearly distinguishable black or white objects, I used a red filter in front of the lens in order to make the red petals look white. The green foliage, in contrast, becomes darker.

This works by basically turning the whole image into a red channel. White and red pass through and print their luminosity on the sensor, while other colours are absorbed by the filter, hence becoming darker. In fact, you are shooting the red channel only, and this requires compensation for the lost light, so you must compensate.

Here is a colour version of the photograph above. This is not the version which I converted.

If I had simply converted the colour image into black and white without using the filter, the red flower and the green foliage would have been a very similar shade of grey, and I would have to separate them by tweaking in software. Not nice.

Simply converting a colour image to black and white, say in Adobe Lightroom, allows you to tone each colour separately in grayscale. Using a filter like this makes the entire image red, so you can only really tone the whole thing up or down using that technique. You will still have some slight control over tones and contrast. The next time you are making a black and white photograph, experiment with both techniques on the same image to decide which gives you your own desired effect.

Here is the filter in question. You can use a regular circular red filter with threads to fit it directly on the lens, or you can use something like the Cokin filters. This one is similar to Cokin in that it is acrylic. The filter itself is only slightly smaller than my lens's filter threads, so I used the plastic holder to handhold it in front of the lens while shooting. The filter and its plastic holder were borrowed from my Durst M370 colour enlarger.

Here is the same image, retaken with the red filter in front of the lens. The filter is so good that it will only really let red go through. Even white becomes red, and this is why red and white become equals, so when you convert to black and white, they look the same. This makes the red flower look much lighter, and makes foliage a bit darker, just the way I want it.

Again, here is the red photograph simply converted to black and white. Some tweaks were made to tones, I believe.

Find it also on my 500px or my flickr. Like, fave, or leave comments.

Canon EOS M mirrorless camera
Tamron 90mm f2.8 1:1 Macro lens
YongNuo 622c remote e-TTL triggers
Canon 430EX II x1 in manual mode
Enlarger's red filter
Adobe Lightroom 5

25 May 2014

Guess that camera

This might be a bit of an obvious one what with all the lettering and numbers, but I think I will play a game of guess that camera here every once in a while.

Of course I mean the camera in the back. ;)

16 May 2014

Modern ancient digital folding camera

This is how you test your digital back to see if it works without having the proper camera it is designed for.

Shooting tethered to an iBook G3, the camera is a Kodak No. 1A Pocket Kodak, Seires II. The Diomatic No.0 shutter allowed me to time an exposure using the T mode (one click to open the shutter, one lick to close the shutter).

The trick is to use a regular shutter in the following way: one shutter release to wake up the sleepy digital back. Within 5 seconds, you must make the second release to take the photo. Release the Kodak shutter, hold shutter relase on the back, close the Kodak shutter, then release your hold on the back's shutter release. Then it's all trial and error to figure out how much time you need to expose to get a picture based on your lighting and ISO sensitivity.

Credit goes to Drew from the PhaseOne/Mamiya forum crew who told me what I should do to get the exposure right on this back.

This is the first working image I got out of it. The green tint is because there was still light leak on the sides of the digital back. The Kodak's original frame size is about 6x12cm, which is huge and is wider than the entire block of the digital back.

This was exported via Adobe Lightroom from the RAW .TIF file. Adobe Lightroom could only export the small preview file. Only Capture One DB will be able to process the RAW into a full size JPG, apparently.

Here are a couple more pictures. Sorry it's all mobile phone pics.

Edit: sorry if this post was offline for a few days. My Android Blogger App reverted this post to an old draft, actually deleting the text and file. I have since had to re-write and reported the issue to Google, even though I doubt they will do anything about it soon, so if you use a smartphone and your computer to blog, I think write and publish your post within one machine instead of drafting on one and finishing and publishing on the other like I do.

11 May 2014

Third film: Olympus XA2

Okay I promise to stop numbering my films, but since the first one was destroyed and I really wanted to show my "first film", I had to do "second". "Third" is because it makes historical sense.

Like I said before, I've been drooling over the idea of shooting film for a while, and this is my third attempt in 35mm format. This time, a pocket camera.

When I was young, we only had film cameras, and the one I used most was one of those long bar cameras that look like a Kodak 600 (I think we had a different brand), which took 110 film. That's what I shot, and I always shot it without even a viewfinder because the camera we had did not have any glass in the viewfinder tunnel, so it was unreliable for directing your taking lens. My sisters had 35mm pocket cameras but I was never allowed to use those.

Now I finally decided to get my own 35mm pocket camera, and after lots of research, the final choice was the Olympus XA2.

So why the XA2?

I needed the camera that had following qualities:
- The main criterion has been good optics.
- Also it needed to be as cheap as possible.
- Being small is a desirable feature. It may accompany a DSLR so it cant be bulky.

I thought about using rangefinders and I still am considering the idea but I've had my fill for now until the upcoming urge of GAS, I will be fine. The size of a rangefinder is still big enough to think of it as a main camera, not a sidekick.

The Olympus XA2 has a 35mm f3.5 D.ZUIKO. I actually thought it was an f2.8 lens which is why I was slightly disappointed, but samples from the internet still show that it's a pretty good lens with regard to sharpness and coverage (little or no vingetting and little or no blur around the edges as far as I could see). You can see that it is a coated lens by looking at light reflections in it. It doesn't seem like the rear end of the lens is as well coated, though.

The camera is pretty small for a 35mm, feels really compact and actually fits into a pocket. Depending on the size of your pocket and other relevant sizes you may or may not forget that it is there. Build quality is pretty good. It feels much sturdier than any other cheap compact 35mm camera that I have put my hands on. If you're a fan of build quality you won't be disappointed.

So I've loaded my film in it, which is the Kodak 400 TMAX. Same as what I put into the Canon EOS 600, simply because it's the only black and white film that I have left. If I had a different BW film, I would have used that. By the time I put the film in this camera, I hadn't even finished shooting the one in the Canon.

Getting an extra exposure on this camera seems like an easy thing. Loading is straightforward, and because the body is so small, you don't have to pull the film a lot out of its canister. This may give you an extra exposure or two, but I'll find out when the roll is finished.

The shutter release is really light, and just as they say, this camera is pretty quiet. I'm used to pressing buttons, and here you don't. Olympus brags about the 'feather' touch, and indeed it is pretty light, which simply releases the leaf shutter/aperture thingie which barely makes a slight click sound, and that's all you hear. Then you advance the film with the advance gear, making a little gear-clicking noise, and you're ready for the next shot. The gear in question is actually not plastic and this is why it does not hurt your thumb. I think it is some kind of hard rubber.

You obviously cannot multi-expose on this camera. Unless you're pretty good at math perhaps, then maybe you can click the lower film-rewind button, rewind manually by two frames, advance again by one frame, and you're back on your last frame with the shutter cocked. This is all theoretical because you can't "rewind by two frames" since the spool inside the film cartridge may not necessarily be taught enough to warrant that the film is indeed rewinding as much as you think it is, let alone the difference in diameter between the two spools (film cartridge and taking spool) which changes with ever frame.

The body feels really nice and I read on an Olympus XA fan site that a special finish is applied to give it its stone-like finish. It is sturdy yet has some plastic parts which you will not mind. There is, however, one design flaw: there is no window in the back to see whether you have a film in the camera or not, and if you do, you cannot tell which one. This could be remedied by either sticking a film badge, using a post-it note or similar, on the uniform-black back, but it removes the nice classic tidy look of the camera. The only other option is having a really good memory and intending to actually finish your roll and not leave it in a drawer for a long time until you forget what was actually in the camera.

Possible ways to make a good looking camera look ugly
While this camera has a variable shutter speed between 1/750 and 2 seconds, which is selected automatically by the camera's internal meter, I found it difficult to shoot in low light despite using an ISO400 film. When there isn't enough light, a green LED lights in the viewfinder and the shutter will not release. This is a form of protection against under-exposed images, but it annoyed me lots as I found it impossible to take a photo indoors. The only option is to attach the flash, which nobody likes.

One thing to tell about the shooting experience with this camera though is that it is extremely easy to forget to set your focus zone before you take the shot. Unlike the XA, the XA2 is not a range-finder. You do not see your focus in the viewfinder. Instead you choose one of three zones to focus on. The f3.5 aperture makes it easier to define user-friendly zones than an f2.8 would, and the lens does not focus close enough anyway to make that significant. The closes focusing distance is 1.3 meters, and at a focal length of 35mm, you can take portraits or bust photos from that distance. A bit farther is the default option, at which you can fill the frame with the whole length of a person. Everything beyond that is infinity. I think I will use the third option most of the time, but you need to set your camera to your required focus zone every time you open up the cover. Closing the cover resets the focus zone to the middle one.

zone focus selector to the left. Cover slides in the track seen on the bottom. Inside, it pushes a mechanical part which resets the zone focus as it closes.

Another minor drawback is that the viewfinder's frame is sometimes hard to see. Should it matter? It helps compose for horizontal and vertical lines so I want to see my rectangle around my shot. It is only at some angles and in some lighting conditions that you can find it difficult to see that frame inside the viewfinder.

really pocketable. fits into my jeans pocket despite being bubbly compared to modern cameras.
Good build quality is an obvious one.
Really quick camera: just open it up, set your focus zone, snap.
Really quiet: no sound except when you advance your film.
Lens quality is renowned for being good but I am yet to develop my film and see for myself. I want to see sharpness and no vignetting.

and then of course there is the top pro point: shooting experience.

Shooting experience

What I want to say here really applies to shooting film in general, but this camera (and perhaps most pocketable quick film snappers) really brings back the subtlety of photography while experiencing the photographed object.

This is something you do not get when you shoot digital. Whenever you shoot a digital shot, you want to look immediately at your small LCD screen to judge the photo. You want to decide whether it's good enough a memento to be taken from the time you experienced the object, or whether you need to take again. On the one hand, you have the facility to judge at the very moment; on the other, a retake is free.

It is like you want to try out the memory before you save it. You are standing there experiencing a memory, and you forget the object even before you remember it. You only virtually experience things with digital cameras, collecting snaps as you go and only experiencing the object later as you look at your photos and try to remember what the experience may have felt like. The object is experienced in retrospective to the photos.

With film you snap the shot and your eyes stay on the object. You photograph that portion of nature, or the crowd on a busy train, and you remain in the middle of it, with plenty of time to absorb the situation into yourself. The photo is preserved in the black box of memories, and your presence is preserved in the situation. You stay in the real world, and you live the thing, the experience which is not photographic. When later developing the photos, without the choice of going back in time to choose a 'better' representation of your visual taste, the lived experience is lived again as the photographs here function as reminders of what you lived when taking them. The photos are retrospective of a lived experience.

This is what I felt and thought when shooting film, slightly on the EOS 600, and more so on this automatic tiny pocket camera. It emphasises your presence with its small size and unobtrusive design. You can forget it exists, and when it does, it is not that significant. It does not stand in between you and the experience, and once it does its job, it is immediately forgotten back into your pocket or hanging on its strap. A digital camera becomes its own object which uses the rest of the world so you can experience it, and only it.

8 May 2014

Second Film: Canon EOS 300 vs Canon EOS 600

As I said in the previous post, my first film ever was lost to bad chemicals. A second attempt was therefore due.

Along with the joblot which said bad chemicals were part of, two Kodak 400TMAX films were included. Outdated, but when was that a problem in black and white?

However, due to the frustration I had with the first film, I really wanted a quicker shooting experience this time. Also, logging the heavy AE-1 with me with its proprietary FD lenses was a bit of a limitation, albeit a good experience that I intend to go through again.

Therefore, for my second film, I decided to use an EOS system, which would enable me to use the same lenses I use on my DSLR. On the one had, I can take both my digital and film cameras out with me, with a single set of lenses for both. Also, I have a bigger variety of lenses for this system.

I had two cameras to choose from:  the EOS 300 and the EOS 600*.
*(link to EOS 600 on Canon Museum takes you to EOS 630 because for some reason they do not have that model listed)

Canon EOS 300 SLR w/ BP-200 battery pack and vertical grip

After selling my first EOS 300, BP-200 and silver EF 28-90mm outfit which I thought looked pretty handsome and was in superb shape, due to lack of use (like, never), I decided to re-acquire the same outfit because it is the cheapest EOS SLR you can have nowadays with an option to use AA batteries. The body can easily be had for £3 on eBay if it auctions locally. Add postage or wait for a local one to appear. The battery grip averages between £15-25 when sold on its own, and if bid on by collectors perhaps. I was lucky to buy both for £5.5 locally. The other reason for this choice because it is also extremely light weight. One wouldn't even notice it's there in the bag.

Lightweight that you can barely notice it, operates the same EF glass, and cheap enough not to worry about any damage while shooting 35mm (full frame/double frame, up to you) format... ace!

The EOS 600 was one of those cameras one saw on eBay, often around £8, and would never buy. I heard good stuff about it, like how it's a pro camera. It still doesn't appeal much, does it? It's an ugly gray camera. I didn't want to pay more than a tenner for one if you include postage. But then I found this EOS 600 film SLR camera in a car-boot sale and couldn't resist at £1.22. It was sitting among a set of metallic classic SLR cameras that were generally in bad shape and were all being sold for parts at £2 each. All the other SLR's had really dirty mirrors, focusing screens, viewfinders, bodies, etc. They were pretty tatty. But this exception looked pretty good and very clean, but no battery to test it. The Canon EOS 600 takes one 2CR5 6V battery, which I borrowed from my Canon ST-E2, and indeed, the camera worked like a charm.

Cons and Pros of each in comparison to the other

EOS 600
+ Build quality
+ Focusing speed and accuracy
+ Higher frame rate in continuous mode.
+ Interchangeable focusing screens, which is a sign of a higher-end camera, such as in case you're using a very fast f1.4 lens and want an S focusing screen to keep up.

EOS 300
+ multiple focusing points
+ much lighter without BP-200
+ BP-200 enables use of AA batteries
+ BP-200 is also a vertical grip
+ internal flash if you ever need that

The rest of the specs are pretty much the same.

= both weigh about the same when 300 is combined with BP-200 and 4xAA batteries
= both have same maximum and minimum shutter speed. You're not going faster than 1/2000s with any of the two.
= both operate EF lenses and Canon speedlites (I think? Something about EZ and EX series needs to be clarified here. EZ Speedlites do A-TTL metering with film SLR's. EX series goes with digital. Digital EOS cannot A-TTL, but I'm not sure about the EX Speedlite being backwards compatible. It might be that these would work in manual mode only on a film EOS.)
= both take pictures

To my surprise, the EOS 600 was pretty heavy for an electronic SLR. However, I found that, combined with the grip and 4xAA batteries, the EOS 300 weighed about the same. The build quality of the 600 makes the 300 feel closer to being a toy. The thing feels like a tiny tank in your hand, and sure enough it is kind of designed to look like one. It is ugly. The mechanics feel a lot more solid, though, and the shutter-mirror movement is firm and feels much more sturdy than in the 300. The reason why, I think, can be seen if you compare the burst mode of the two cameras:

I've also compared the autofocusing speed, and it the 600 wins hands down. Fast and accurate with all my lenses.

Nothing is perfect, though, and the 600 seems to have a single point at the very centre of the frame for autofocusing, and I suspect metering as well, as opposed to the competitor's multiple focusing points which can make framing and focusing a tiny bit easier in some situations.

The controls are worlds apart and this is where the two systems really feel like two different categories of products.

The EOS 300 is pretty straight forward. A button does what it says it does. You use the Fn button to select one of four functions which you can see in the LCD, and turn that on or off with the dial.

The EOS 600 is a bit of a hassle and takes a bit of getting used to. A button does what it says it does, and does something else when combined with another button. This style of user interface has been passed down to the EOS 1D series.

Another feature which is passed down to to the EOS 1D series is a little lever/switch which is hidden under the EF mount. When a lens is fully mounted until it clicks, the lever is engaged. This is when the EOS system expects communication with an EF lens, and when it does not find one, it gives an error. This gives trouble when using an M42 lens or a reversing ring, as these adapters do not have an AF-confirm chip. The only solution is to shave the adapter so it leaves that lever alone when it fully clicks in place. The other solution of course is to shave the lever but I presume it is safe to think nobody sees this as a solution to a problem. The 300, and pretty much every other EOS camera that I came across, lack this lever/switch thing and therefore naturally allow the use of any adapted lenses.

Switch/lever is engaged when a lens is mounted
Ultimately I went with the EOS 600 as it ended up being the smaller of the two outfits, while also feeling like a building block in your hand which I personally like.

And now the film is developed. Photos will be shared once I find a way to print or scan them.

3 May 2014

First Film

Recently I've acquired two lovely 35mm cameras with a couple nice lenses: the Canon A1 and AE-1 Program, with an FD 50mm f1.4 and an FD 35-105mm. An old film in a drawer would do the job: Ilford FP4+. I really like the idea of low ASA, low noise, and this was the only black and white film that I owned.

My plan was to use one camera for colour film, the other for black and white, but there was no room to develop colour yet so I had to make a choice of which camera, and for my sole Ilford FP4+, which came with God knows which kit I bought a year ago, I chose the sexier looking AE-1 Program with its nice big time dial. I like the simpler interface of the AE-1 Program.

The gear

The kit I put together consisted of the camera body, both lenses mentioned above along with a x2 type A teleconverter, a flashgun and a light meter. I prepped the 50mm with two filters for BW: a polarizer to eliminate reflections in some of my planned shots, and a red filter for extra contrast in some situations. There was also a macro bellows which I never used.

The journey shooting all 24 exposures was a very fun one. I used the light meter in every one of the shots, and used a digital camera to meter for flash in some of them.

In this shot taken at home, I used the Canon FD 70-210mm lens to frame the ship in macro mode at 70mm

The record

In order to learn from my experience I decided to keep a record of every single shot I take, all the settings that I use, so that when I develop the film later, if I have over or under exposed images, I would know what went wrong.

The format was
Frame. Content. Time@Aperture. Flash. (lens, filter)

0. Son. P@A. Fired auto yellow. (35-105mm)
1. Son. P@f1.4. No flash. (50mm f1.4)
2. Ship. 2s@f5.6. No flash. (35-105mm macro)

The few shots were recorded on a piece of paper then I began using Evernote on my Android phone. It was a good idea since my phone is always with me, and anything written in Evernote automatically gets synced to my PC. Then, by mere coincidence, I stumbled across this amazing application which is godsend for film shooters. It is called EXIF4Film.

EXIF4Film creates and organises all rolls you are shooting. You create a list of your gear, enter all the details, and fill in every detail for every shot you take in a very nice and user-friendly interface. There is even a setting for GPS location and a complementary picture you can take to help you remember anything you want to.

You can also export XML lists of your gear and film rolls, in case you want to migrate the info into other software, or to save in case your phone crashes and needs a hard reset.

The loss

I cannot describe my excitement to get those frames out. I know very well I took some really nice shots, some of them very carefully constructed. Then came developing time.

Upon developing the film, it came out blank.

Not blank in a film did not run through the camera kind of way. Not blank in a camera had a fault and did not exposure the film kind of way. Not black as if overexposed or burned due to lack of light seals kind of way. It came out just blank. No markers, no nothing. Just transparent film.

A little troubleshooting and I realised the fault was in the developer solution. The guy who sold me the joblot gave me completely oxidised developer. Needless to say, he stopped responding afterwards.

My first roll of black and white film ever was gone into oblivion. Literally went down the drain as every tiny bit of silver halide crystals washed away without leaving its mark on the film plane, leaving behind a mere transparency, showing no memory except for the nothingness I felt when I took the film out of the developing spool.

The Gain

And that was my first roll of film. I will not deny having learned a few things out of it, including getting used to some exposure settings in certain lighting conditions. You do not learn to keep those in mind when using digital because of the sense of security you get for using EXIF data in every shot. You tell yourself you will look at them later, but you never do.

1 May 2014

Journeying to the Past

I've been craving the idea of shooting film for a while now. I'm an old-fashion-minded person and I like everything old. I've had a medium format camera for a long time, but due to lack of the means for developing (lack of chemicals/tools), I have not attempted to actually use it.

So why crave film if I have digital?

If you shoot digital, then you must have faced a situation when you wished you had more dynamic range. Digital SLR sensors, in this regard, are limited. Get into a high contrast situation with lots of strong highlights and dark shadows and you know what I'm talking about. You can only expose for one or the other, never get both. The only solution is high dynamic range, which you can only capture in one shot, affordably enough, by the use of film.

The only films I have ever shot previously in my life were 110 format shot on one of those long chocolate-bar-like cameras which every family had. I would shoot one cartridge per school trip and get it developed and printed at a photo lab. The camera did not have any settings. Not even glass in the viewfinder which was no more than a tunnel of plastic that I used for an approximate framing of a badly taken snap of a friend or myself leaning on a tree. Other than that, I never shot film.

My first craved camera was the Nikon Coolpix 8800 back when it was first introduced in 2005. The first camera I can say I started doing photography with was a digital pocket camera. Canon IXUS 80 IS. In pink. It belonged to my sister so don't judge. I brought it with me to the UK and was able to take some decent shots with it. Of course, upon first arrival in the UK back in 2010, my first purchase was of course the Nikon 8800, which I had dreamt about 5 years earlier. I did not do very well using it as I was completely new to basic concepts such as aperture and shutter control. It was difficult to get the right settings, but when you did, I thought the images came out like a revelation. It was a slow reader to CF card compared to the much more user friendly compact with a larger screen and a flexible SD card option which was the Canon. It was also outdated. I soon sold it.

My first SLR was a Canon EOS 300D, and from there, I moved up the ranks of EOS line, using 350D, 400D, 450D, 550D (borrowed), 1D Mark II N, 5D, 5D Mark II, and the EOS M. All that digital goodness got me very well acquainted with photographic principles and effects. It cost nothing to make mistakes, and you could see the result of what setting you're playing with immediately. I understood the physics of photography and light, messed about a lot with manual lenses, and because I'm very mechanically minded, I had to do everything manually, using the M setting as much as I can, and soon enough I started shooting RAW exclusively.

One of the many ways in which RAW is useful is that you can generate an HDR file out of three exports from the same file, or simply retrieve data from pixels that would normally be recorded as 'overexposed' in JPG. Get those details back. I was still not pleased and wanted to get even more manual. Nothing could satisfy me more than developing my own film, even printing my own photographs.

Due to my stubborn insistence to do as much as I can by hand, and to pay as little as I can, developing needed to take place at home.

The easier, cheaper, and more aesthetically pleasing experience for me has been to shoot black and white film. Having finally found a joblot of darkroom stuff which included both the chemicals and all the plastic required, I was finally able to load my first film into a camera.

In the following few posts I will talk about the experience into shooting film and what I have learned from it. I will also post photos/videos whenever I can, so stay tuned to hear more about it.